Again, women have abandoned their monologue.
After taking to books to express themselves following the re-advent of multiparty politics in 2003, it has been relatively quiet in the creative department of women, especially when it comes to publishing works collectively.
No more; perhaps because women have realised that speaking to oneself is akin to speaking on top of one’s voice on a windy day. The voice will, most likely, be swallowed up by the winds, leaving the speaker wondering as to whether the message has landed home or not.
Winds may not be such a good medium of communication.
A book, on the other hand, is.
Why? “Because people are able to articulate issues and there are no fears about information getting lost because [when you publish] it [the message] is in permanent form,” says Sambalikagwa Mvona, Malawi Writers (Mawu) Union President.
With 13 books to his credit— and counting— Mvona is not speaking from a position of ignorance. He has been there. He knows the book publishing landscape in Malawi like the palm of his right hand. He is right-handed, after all.
And, so, Mvona— Cultural Fund of Malawi through Hivos and others who value the arts— asked women to submit short stories for inclusion in an anthology. Those who were successful attended workshops funded by the Cultural Support Scheme and Cultural Fund of Malawi.
A Grafted Tree and Other Stories: An Anthology of Women Writers in Malawi is the product of those efforts.
Mvona says the anthology is part of the efforts to revive story-telling in Malawi.
“For many years, story-telling has always been associated with women— grandmothers telling age-long stories to their grandchildren around a fire-place. Stories have been told of kalulu’s [hare] cleverness, of the forest creatures, napolo— that snake which triggers floods— competitive chimtali and mganda dances, the great tireless journeys to copper, diamond and gold mines surrounding our country and many more that knighted our great heroes.
“But, with time, such stories are sadly diminishing as more of such story-tellers are phasing out and others are increasingly migrating to urban centres. But women, because of their status, do not fall short of awe with stories that grip their bodies and sidestep their paths to success. This makes us believe that women are natural story-tellers no matter the conditions they are entangled in,” Mvona says in the introduction.
Demetrina Herman Banda opens the chapter in the anthology with her piece, ‘The Bargaining Chip’, a story that revolves around a girl called Chifatso Gamaliyele from Sangani, a rural district.
Through hard work and dedication, she finds herself at Kabula University. Being the Gamaliyeles’ only child and one of the education ‘survivors’ in an area where cases of school dropout and early marriages are rampant, she defies the odds to scale greater heights.
After sailing past stumbling blocks such as peer pressure, Chifatso faces a block more challenging than those she has faced before— a professor [Kazukuta], bent on establishing contact that may lead to romance with her, fails her in examinations. After failing the calculus, she has to know why she has failed and that means meeting the professor.
The story becomes intriguing at this point and forces one to read on so that they may understand how it ends.
‘Smooth Operator’, a story by Matilda Phiri, starts with a bad day for the protagonist, Ethel, after a thief steals her handbag in Limbe, Blantyre’s commercial centre.
She lost her mother to breast cancer while in university and goes on facing one form of challenge or another.
HEART OF STORY-TELLING— The village
In a way, ‘Smooth Operator’ is a story of love because, along the way, Ethel and Frank fall in love. In the mix of emotions, love and recklessness, she gets pregnant.
Coincidentally, Ethel’s sister, Linda, falls pregnant and it is Frank, too, who is responsible.
The protagonist cannot stomach it.
In ‘Destiny’, a story by Nancy Phiri, Destiny, a poor girl, young and helpless, is left shocked after learning that her fate and that of her sisters is to be decided by her uncle’s family.
“Destiny felt a pang of fear. They were gathered in her mother’s bedroom. Her uncle, his wife and the two remaining sisters. How could these people be so heartless? Planning her life as if she was a bag of potatoes. The cheek of it all in the deceased bedroom…” paragraph six of the story sums the gist of the matter.
But, as her name suggests, she is destined for greater things. She manages to attain an education and, finally, marries the man of her choice.
What is more? She even forgives those who wronged her on her way to success.
‘Napolo’, a story by Patience Chilinjala, starts with a persona promising to live by his words. What are the words? Writing a letter to the daughter who, apparently, was close to his heart.
After those words, as the author puts it, she breathes with ease as she watches him get in a boat.
“Carefully clutching his small bag that was tightly fit in his waist, he helped himself up on the port size of the boat. Oars in the hand, he pushed the boat further from the shore,” reads part of the story.
It turns out that the father is involved in fishy business and the daughter is bent on finding out.
There are many other stories, including ‘The Night Owls’ by Dalitsani Lucy Anselmo, ‘Nanyoni’s Fate’ by Thokozani Kasiya, ‘Revenge Has A Bitter Taste’ by Fiddy Lundu, ‘Giselle’ by Natasha Munde, ‘The Eclipse’ by Victoria Kalaundi, ‘The World is Round’ by Mwayi Sambalikagwa Mvona.
Other stories are ‘Guilty’ by Grace Sharra, ‘Murderer of the Village’ by Roseby Gadama, ‘A Grafted Tree’ by Tikondwe Kaphagawani-Chimkowola, ‘The Landlady’ by Clara Honester Chikuni, ‘Tainted’ by Charlene Matekenya, ‘My Mother’s Daughter’ by Maurlin Madukani, ‘Chongo’ by Edith Kalawo, ‘Moments of Life’ by Mercy Pindani, ‘That Girl Is You’ by Precious Nihorowa, ‘For Francis Soul’ by Alinafe Olivia Gundo and ‘Rumours’ by Norah Mervis Lungu.
The only blip in the anthology could be that there is no colouring of language, and those wishing to add some words to their vocabulary, or be surprised by the weaving of words, will be disappointed.
Otherwise, the stories are full of themes, giving readers a chance to, at least, get a piece from the cake that is creative writing.
So, while, in other spheres of life, the talk is about women empowerment through the door of politics— as Malawians prepare for the 2019 Tripartite Elections, namely Local Government, parliamentary and presidential elections— Mawu seems bent on sending home the message that women can also dominate the arts.
This point will be emphasised today, during the launch of A Grafted Tree and Other Stories: An Anthology of Women Writers in Malawi at Jacaranda Cultural Centre.
If a bunch of books is evidence of readiness, then Mawu is ready— for books upon books graced Mvona’s Blantyre office when Weekender visited it on Tuesday. The books are ready for launch, not just at Jacaranda but in people’s hearts— so long as they connect to the stories.
Twenty-one stories litter the book with their myriad themes.